The battle of Stalingrad is seen as one of the key turning points of the Second World War - the battle that ended the run of German victories in the east and did so much damage to the German army that its eventual defeat was inevitable. In this book Tsouras looks at the events of 1942 and produces an alternative history in which Stalingrad ends as a German victory.
There are two ways to look at this book - as a work of counter-factual history that shines a light on the real events of 1942 by examining possible alternatives or as a novel of alternative history.
For me this book fails as counter-factual history. Instead of picking a small number of changes and trying to imagine what impact they would have, the author has chosen to make dozens of really major changes to events throughout 1942 - a whole series of key figures make very different decisions (in particular Hitler has to be made to act rather more reasonably that in reality), entire countries act differently, historical battles end differently and just about every single German plan works out perfectly (I won't provide more details as I don't want to provide spoilers). There are simply too many changes spread out over too long a period for this scenario to be historically convincing. If anything the sheer amount of changes that Tsouras needs to make to get to a German victory at Stalingrad only helps convince the reader that the Germans couldn't have won.
Because the text is written in the form of a novel it isn't always clear which detail is historically accurate and which has been changed. Tsouras includes endnotes, marking the fictional ones with a *, but there are two problems here. First, these are book endnotes, which are annoying at the best of time, but verge on the useless if you need to check them on a regular basis, and second some of the notes that aren't marked as fictional are unreliable at best - blog posts, forum discussions or the discredited historian David Irving are all used. As a result it is best to treat everything as fictional, especially later in the book when most events have been altered by earlier changes.
The key question therefore is does the book work as a work of historical fiction, and for me the answer is a resounding yes. Tsouras is a very skilful author - the book is entertaining and readable, his changes are certainly credible enough to work in fiction, most of the historical figures behave in a way that is close enough to reality to not be too jarring, and the ending is very entertaining (if entirely implausible). This is a very readable novel that certainly drew me in.
1 - Führer Directive 41
2 - A Timely Death
3 - The Second Wannsee Conference
4 - Race to the Don
5 - The Battle of Bear Island
6 - The Battle of 20o East
7 - Counting the Victories
8 - 'Those Crazy Mountain Climbers'
9 - The Terror Raid
10 - New Commanders All Round
11 - Der Rattenkrieg
12 - 'Danke Sehr, Herr Roosevelt!'
13 - Der Totenritt bei Leninsk
14 - 'Manstein is Coming!'
15 - Coda
Author: Peter Tsouras